After we have covered the most important basics of what you need to know about the optimal volume for hypertrophy, we’re now going more in-depth into the volume for each muscle separately.
If you haven’t read the aforementioned article yet, definitely check it out and enhance your knowledge about the basics of volume.
Alright, what can you expect from this article series about volume applied to each muscle? Based on Dr Mike Israetel’s knowledge and experience, as well as our own, we want to clarify which volume works best for each muscle.
Now, some of you may think: doesn’t all muscles work and react similarly?
To some extent, they might do, but because there are quite large differences, you should know all the important facts to adjust your workout.
Furthermore, this series about hypertrophy gives you a good foundation that you can use to bring your workout to the next level and start composing your own routine.
But let’s stop talking too much and get started on our journey to discover the optimal chest volume!
When I remember the time I started going to the gym, on the hand I am amused but on the other hand I wish I would have had the same knowledge about training as today.
Wrong execution, too much volume and no muscle mind connection at all. These are average mistakes that almost everybody does at the beginning of their career.
But eventually, it was necessary and important to make these mistakes in order to figure out what works and what doesn’t for my body. It helped me to understand how muscles respond and work with forces and how to train effectively.
At this point, I can only emphasize once again how essential it is that you expose yourself with all aspects of working out. In our age, we’re just a click away from tons of information about our problem solutions.
So, what is your excuse wasting time in the gym because you’re doing the wrong exercises, executing the right exercises wrong and probably using unfavourable volume?
With this in mind, the purpose of this article series is to provide you with all the important and essential knowledge that you need to tailor your own individual training programme for the optimal hypertrophy volume.
Today we’re covering all important facts to know for the optimal chest volume!
To begin with, it is important to consider the least volume that you need to maintain your muscles.
MV – Maintenance volume
In this case, MV stands for “Maintenance Volume“, the minimum amount of work that is required to maintain your muscles.
This is important to know because if you have to fall back or reduce your workouts for some time, you don’t want to lose your hard acquired gains, do you?
So then, what can we take as a benchmark?
MV: 8 sets/week
Approximately 8 sets each week are said to be sufficient in order to maintain your current chest’s size.
Of course, this can vary individually. Some of you might need more volume whereas others even need less volume to maintain their chest size, though.
Therefore, it is important to take these recommendations as benchmarks and not as fixed values. Over time you’ll figure out what works best for you and what doesn’t. From that point on you adjust your workout according to your own body’s preferences.
MEV – Minimum Effective Volume
After we covered the MV required for muscle maintenance, apparently we want to know what we need to do in order to build muscles.
For that, we need the Minimum Effective Volume (MEV) which refers to the minimum amount of work to build muscles and increase their size.
What is recommended for the MEV?
MEV: 10+ sets/week
In general, we can say that around 10+ sets per week will work for most people, but again these are only average benchmarks and can vary individually!
So, if you’re currently doing less than 10 heavy sets per week for your chest it probably isn’t going to result in effective muscle growth.
But, if you’re working with 10 or more sets each week, this is a good point to start your optimal chest volume routine with and adjust it gradually according to your body’s responses.
MAV – Maximum Adaptive Volume
Now as we know which volume at least needs to be realised, we want to know what’s the most effective volume for our chest to grow.
Here an average of 12-22 sets a week works out fine for most individuals. For instance, currently, my workout routine consists of around 22-24 sets each week and so far it feels good.
So again, you can see that there is no blunt right or wrong.
Working out isn’t just black or white as a lot of people think, there are so many variables (for more information check out our previous article linked further at the top) that influence our performance and need to be considered when talking about the optimal chest volume.
MRV – Maximum Recoverable Volume
Last but not least we address the Maximum Recoverable Volume which reveals how much work can be done at max and still be able to recover from it properly.
This is crucial to know when compiling the optimal chest volume workout plan!
MRV: 20-22sets/ week
Most individuals seem to be able to recover from 20-22 sets each week and thus keep up consistent stimuli to grow your muscles.
Accordingly, a good point of reference for you lies around 20-22 sets per week.
The chest is a relatively big muscle which is why it can sustain and need such forces.
If you compare your chest with smaller muscle like biceps, of course, you don’t nearly need a volume with 20 sets per week to grow it.
But we will approach more about that in a separate article.
After we covered which volume is required for the different parameters, we’ll consider other important variables that exert an impact on how our volume is composed.
How often should you train your chest in order to get the optimal chest volume?
Generally speaking, a frequency of 2-3 workouts/week in which your chest is exercised heavy works best for most people.
I would not recommend going higher than 3 workouts/week because the chest is a big muscle that takes a lot of damage. Therefore, 4 overloading workouts tend to be too much.
People who have a big chest and lift very heavy can go with around 1.5 workout/week.
What does 1.5 workouts/week mean?
For example, your first workout is a really heavy one while your second workout will be lighter with maybe around 4 sets. This will help you to recover but still hit your chest to some extent and contribute to your volume.
In general, it seems that super high reps ranges do not work that well for chest. Most people can benefit from a quite low rep range between 5-8 for the optimal chest volume.
As a max I would not recommend going higher than 12 reps, rather stay lower. In general somewhere between 5-12 reps works out for most individuals.
The chest is composed of a high percentage of fast-twitch muscle fibres that are really responsive to high forces which is why benching relatively heavy works so well.
Chest workout – exercises
When talking about the optimal chest volume, of course, we need to consider the chest workout.
Here we can identify three types of chest exercises:
Horizontal/flat pressing movements:
- Flat Barbell Bench Press
- Flat Dumbell Bench Press
- Flat Machine Bench Press
An important variable that you can adjust here is the width of your grip. Some people tend to have a wider grip whereas others prefer to have it closer.
Incline pressing movements:
- Incline Barbell Bench Press
- Incline Dumbell Bench Press
- Incline Machine Bench Press
- Incline Pushup
When using incline chest exercises, the most usual adjustment variable is the angle of the bench you’re using.
Some people prefer to use a relatively high angle with around 60-70° degree.
Personally, I am used to an angle around a 30-45°. But here again, this is my personal experience. I would recommend you to try out different angles and see what suits you the best.
- Flat Dumbell Flys
- Incline Dumbell Flys
- Cable Flys
- Machine Chest Flys
- Machine Chest Butterfly / Pec Dec Fly
Isolation movements are great when it comes to the end of your workout, with lighter weights you can “finish” your muscles and get the beloved pump. But not only at the end of your workout do isolation movements bring great benefits.
You can also use them to pre-exhaust your muscle before starting with heavy bench press or other compound exercises in general. This will already give you a good chest pump before having done any set of bench press at all.
A lot of athletes who have issues with their mind-muscle connection will benefit from this technique because it makes it easier for them to feel their chest during heavy exercises.
Eventually, it is advisable to include all three types of chest exercises into your workout. That does not necessarily mean that you have to do them all in one workout, you can split them over the week.
For instance, if you’re doing three chest workouts each week, the first one you’re prioritizing horizontal/flat exercises, the second one focusses on incline exercises and to finish off your week you could either combine all three or just do a light workout with only some isolation exercises and enhance your recovery.
Range of motion
Throw your ego out of the door and go with the full range of motion.
But does that mean I should lift light? Certainly not, you should lift heavy but in a rep range that you can control.
If you want to get a big chest I would really recommend you to use the full range of motion of your chest for best results.
For some, this might mean to considerably reduce their weights, but I assure you, it’s worth it!
Your chest will get stretched more and is accordingly exposed to heavier forces because the part where the barbell touches your chest and you’re pushing it up again clean, is by far the toughest.
Furthermore, it is important to know that your chest works in two ways. Pushing movements and flying movements. The first consist of all bench press variations in different angles and the second refers to e.g. cable flys, machine butterfly or any other kind of fly variation.
You should lift heavy BUT only weights that you can control
Use the full range of motion
Perform both pushing and flying movements
What should you remember for the optimal chest volume?
MV: 8 sets / week
MEV: 10+ sets / week
MAV: 12-20 sets / week
MRV: 20-22 sets / week
Frequency: for heavy lifters, 1.5 workouts can be sufficient but for most people 2-3 heavy chest workouts will work best
Intensity: the chest tends to grow best from relatively heavy weights, therefore a rep range between 5-12 reps is a good benchmark
Exercises: horizontal, flat, incline and isolation movements. I recommend you to include all three types of exercises in your workouts during the week
Range of motion: throw your ego out of the door and use the full range of motion
Supersets: isolation + compound press or vice versa
A good technique to save time during your workout and get a great pump.
You can start with the isolation movement for a couple of reps and directly afterwards you’re going to a pre-loaded bench and do a set of bench press. Because you already hit your chest with the isolation movement, your chest will be the limiting factor and not your triceps or shoulders.
The other way around works as well. Means you start with a heavy compound press (flat or incline bench press) and again directly after your set is done you do an isolation movement for another couple of reps.
This will leave you with a bit more power in your first exercise and then give you a great way to finish your chest.
- Dr Mike Israetel’s isolation sandwich: compound press (heavy) – isolation movement (isolation) – another compound press (light)
You start with a heavy compound press followed by an isolation movement and finish with a second compound press with lighter intensity.
This technique combines the two above mentioned benefits and all types of chest exercises.
On the one hand, you’re lifting heavy and own all your power for the first compound exercise, then you still get a good muscle feeling and pump with an isolation movement and to finalize you do another compound press (e.g. incline press if you started with flat press in your first exercise) with lighter intensity to finish up your chest.
Special shout-out to Dr Mike Israetel, we really value his knowledge and the content that he shares with you guys on his YT channel and his blog.
Definitely check out his video about chest volume!
Furthermore, if you’re still looking for more awesome content, we can also recommend you to visit his blog.
I hope this article answered all your questions about the optimal chest volume for best results.
If you still have further questions, please leave a comment below and get in touch with us on our social media channels. We’re pleased to answer your question!
So, guys, I am curious. How does your current volume for your chest workout routine look like?